Glaciers around the world are melting. Why should we care?

A Melting Planet: glacier regression and rising sea levels


Trift Glacier, Switzerland. Left (2006), Right (2015). Photo by Extreme Ice Survey

Glaciers around the world are melting. Why should we care?

Well, let’s first take a look at the United States. Almost 40% of our population lives in a coastal area. That means 40% of our population is exposed and vulnerable to sea level rise. When glaciers melt, they cause our ocean levels to creep up. Due to a combination of both melting ice and thermal expansion from warming waters, sea levels are rising at approximately 1/8 inch (3.4 mm) per year. That doesn’t seem like a large number at first glance, however, over a certain length of time, that number adds up. It is especially concerning when we note that the annual rate of rise has doubled since the 20th century. The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) has projected that the global mean sea level will rise at least 8 inches but no more than 6 feet by the year 2100. What does this mean? Coastal fish and wildlife ecosystems are threatened. Nuisance flooding is increasing. Freshwater aquifers are being flooded by saltwater, tainting municipal and agricultural water supplies. All of this because ice is melting around the world.

Columbia Glacier, Alaska. Left (2009), Right (2015). Photo by Extreme Ice Survey


Now let’s leave the shores of North America and head to Tanzania, Africa, home to Mount Kilimanjaro. Once home to a beautiful abundance of ice fields, this was an ice climber’s paradise. Of the ice cover present in 1912, today, approximately 90% has melted away.


Ice Climber in Mount Kilimanjaro. Photo by UNEP.

Our last stop will be heading north. Arctic land ice makes up 31% of the eustatic sea-level contribution to rising sea levels, making it the largest land ice contributor in the world. Imagine how a melting habitat is affecting the animals that call it home. Polar bears, who use the ice for travel to different areas, are losing that ability as their “roads” melt away into the ocean. They are losing hunting grounds and are becoming isolated to small regions and being forced to inbreed due to decreased contact with outside polar bears. The polar bear population in Svalbard, on the Barents Sea, lost 10% genetic diversity in the past 20 years. Lack of genetic diversity can cause difficulty with continuing to produce fertile offspring. It is a true threat to the species.


Photo by Ole Jorgen Liodden/NPL off of

There is no corner of the world that can escape the fate of a warming planet. The Extreme Ice Survey, a showcase at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, used photography to portray to the masses just how serious climate change is for glaciers around the world. Time lapses and side-by-side photos display heartbreaking regression and loss. From Switzerland to Alaska to the French Alps to Nepal. The pictures speak a thousand words. However, the exhibit was not made to make us feel sad or hopeless, reflecting on the natural wonders we’ve lost. It is to educate, impact, and ignite a change.

What can we do to help? Reduce our carbon footprint.   3 easy ways that you can help lower greenhouse gas emissions:
1. Adjust your thermostat: down 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, up 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
2. Use energy-saving light bulbs. Replace incandescent bulbs with LED lights.
3. Drive less. Ride your bike or walk as much as you can.


Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo by Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

Extreme Ice

MSI Asks | Episode 03: Extreme Ice

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References: climber-Will%20Gadd posing/story?id=79894188#:~:text=A%202020%20study%20published%20in,bears%20lose%20their%20 hunting%20ground.

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